Georgetown Ohio….There is no possibility of exhausting the wonders of travel, so I often find myself wrestling over whether to return. With so much to see, how does one justify squandering time revisiting familiar ground? While I do not come back often, I need to confess every time has proven marvelous. Going back has taught me there is scant squandering: more time is lost during the introduction as you attempt to gain a sense of direction, digest local customs and fret over time zones, exchange rates, voltage converters, etc. The second time you are a veteran, able to immediately dive in and reap a richer experience. Though I have already shared a piece on President Ulysses Grant’s boyhood home in Georgetown, Ohio, that trip revealed an annual celebration called “Grant Days”, which lured me back for more.
Grant’s Day festivities occur across the weekend nearest Ulysses’ birthday on April 27th, with most activity on Saturday, though presentations are held Thursday and Friday evenings beforehand. I had been alerted to the event by my guide when I initially toured Grant’s Boyhood Home, and the way she described efforts of the US Grant Homestead Association made me conclude the affair would be well done. Thankfully I was not disappointed. I cannot recall attending something totally free that offered such a wealth of information presented in engaging fashion.
Being just shy of a two hour drive from home, I was off to an early start Saturday to arrive for a History Walk which kicked off at 9AM. This was a brilliant beginning. Appropriately attired as a Yankee soldier, our host was a local historian who escorted us around Georgetown for an hour and a half. Sharing many fun anecdotes about young Grant, it was an entertaining stroll. The walk concluded in front of more free opportunities: the Brown County Historical Museum and the Ammen House.
Both visits were short, but sweet – especially as free cookies and refreshments were offered at both establishments. The Brown County Museum sits in the town’s former jail and is basically a pair of rooms (possibly better described as a long hallway) chock full of period mementos you might find at a flea market. By that I mean old stuff not deeply connected with the locality, though the displays were eye catching. Ammen House is a bed & breakfast and I was impressed they simply threw the doors open to allow all-comers to trudge through unescorted. The interesting connection to Grant is that he grew up with a pair of brothers raised in the homestead: Jacob Ammen, who also rose to rank of general during the American Civil War, and Daniel, who became an admiral.
This astonishing array of military leadership for such a small community was made poignant by a fun story we heard during the morning walk. After leaving the presidency, Grant returned to visit Georgetown with his childhood buddy, Danny Ammen. As they walked down the main drag an elderly woman popped out of a front door with a broom in one hand a pie in the other. Apparently out making deliveries, this was the proprietor of the town bakery, who had been old when both were boys. Recognizing the pair, she thrust a pie into the hands of the former President and a broom to a former Admiral, commanding them to follow her with the promise they would be served a slice once they got back to her shop!
Afterwards I walked over to the Grant Schoolhouse, the one room building where Ulysses attended primary school. During my first visit last fall the docent had called in sick and thus far I had only peeped in the windows. The return was really not much better, though forgiveness was easy. There was only a young boy inside when I entered, who quickly introduced himself as the guide, sharing this was his first day in the role. It was a somewhat awkward tour, but I have no doubt experience will improve things. Still interesting and fortunately most of the mementos were adequately documented by placards.
Then it was back to the Grant Homestead where I sat in on the first presentation in the Living History Tent. This was where Grant Days really shined. A total of ten half-hour talks were presented on a broad range of topics around President Grant. I sat in on four and was surprised how much I learned. My favorite was “Meet the Grants” which featured a couple portraying Ulysses and Julia Grant. Everything I have read about Grant seems scanty on details around his personal life, but it is abundantly clear there was considerable devotion and great joy between husband and wife, so I enjoyed the focus on hitherto unexplored territory.
Several food stands, which were simply grills set up by locals (i.e., not commercial) started cooking and around noon I grabbed a meal and parked at a picnic table in Ulysses’ back yard. I had only been seated ten seconds when another couple asked if they could join, followed by another couple immediately after. We had a lively discussion and it was refreshing to realize other folks were deeply versed in the Grant legacy.
My fun lunchtime conversation caused me to arrive late for the presentation around McGregor Cottage (near Saratoga, New York), the place where President Grant passed away. The presenter was associated with a non-profit operating the site and he was every bit as enthused about his subject matter as the locals. In addition, I was oblivious of this place before and it certainly sounds like a destination – returning revealed new places to seek.
During the next presentation a couple of booming rifle reports were heard, which we had been alerted about earlier. The Civil War reenactment was starting! They should probably plan a break in their schedule for this, because I felt bad for the presenter as everyone rather abruptly abandoned his talk. The reenactment was not overly spectacular; though I was surprised the Confederates won the skirmish. The gun blasts were very loud and I caught myself jumping several times. I found it amusing how wounds were consistently fatal: whenever a soldier fell it was clearly death. Awards should be handed out for the death thralls and I was impressed by the wildly spasmodic leg jerks accompanying the expiration of several fallen soldiers.
After catching one more presentation it was about time to head back home. This was somewhat sad because the gentleman who had led our History Walk tapped my shoulder and handed me a pass to join the closing event, the Memorial to the Brown County Civil War Soldiers. This happens after the “Ladies’ Tea” at 4PM and I expressed regrets that I could not hang around. I did step into the Grant Homestead during my exit (and please know house tours are free during this event) because I had gathered several book suggestions during the day and remembered they had a nice selection at the gift shop inside. After purchasing a pair of volumes it was off into the sunset to wind up a fun day.
A happy return. Coming back to Georgetown was distinct and unique from my first venture, offering further satisfaction without regrets. Beyond learning a great deal about President Grant, sharing this experience with fellow devotees seemed to endorse my new found admiration was valid, and not misplaced. Better yet, being introduced to the McGregor Cottage continues to expand presidential horizons. Sometimes you can go back.